I was asked many times how I felt about being isolated for a year. I wish I had a deep and subtle answer to that but, to be honest, I didn’t have time to think about it.
The last two weeks were a succession of two kinds of moments. First, preparation work. Between finishing research projects, leaving my flat in Rome and driving to Paris, writing project proposals, getting a year’s worth of lab supplies in the dome, managing partnerships, answering media, having kilograms of paper sheets filled in by American, French and Italian administrations, ensuring that I had all I need for a year and the like, there was no shortage of tasks. Then, there were the last times. Some at all, some for a year. My last day in the lab, my last joke in Italian (pathetic; be careful with puns in languages you just learned), my last walk in the streets of Paris, the last meal with my family, the last time I saw my friends, the last call to someone who matters. These last times were quite time-consuming, too. For instance, close friends came to Paris for a farewell drink, starting a few hours before sunset. We were talking, joking, reviving old memories and sharing recent ones, dancing and, soon – after what felt like two hours – the sun rose.
Switching from one kind of moment to another gave a peculiar rhythm to those weeks. The first kind was mostly about running around with each hand on a different task, living in accelerated motion and drinking coffee by the liter. The second one was about experiencing an interesting panel wide of feelings within distorted time frames: hours that felt like minutes, and moments where every second yielded a distinct memory.
And now I am in a plane to Hawaii and, for the first time in days, my thoughts have time to wander. So, how do I feel about isolating myself for a year?
Let’s start with the fact that I will have no direct contact with my friends and family, as the memories of goodbyes are fresh in my head. In a way, this situation is not fully new. My projects lead me to different places around the globe; HI-SEAS will be home to me for longer than any other place since I started college. But this time, there is no option to jump in a plane. There will be no phone call. When coming back, I will be even more of a foreigner in all cities I have lived in. People will have changed, been through important moments – some will be married by then, some will have started companies and careers, and round bellies will have turned into first children. An interesting side effect of spending years abroad: wherever you go next – even in the city you grew up – you will be a foreigner.
Then, there is the excitement. I am about to live peculiar year. I will work for a cause which is, I think, the most meaningful I can pursue as a scientist. And I will do so while being surrounded by like-minded and fascinating people, with a lifestyle that I have never experienced before. Then, I don’t know how my psychology will be affected. This whole experience was not designed for no reason. I am not expecting any catastrophe, as we were carefully selected for our abilities to withstand this kind of situation. But the way we think may change over time, to an unknown extent. I am very curious about it and will observe myself. It may be so progressive that I will not realize it, but maybe you will notice that my writing is evolving? There are many other things to be excited about, of course. We will meet – although not all of them in person – many people including top-notch scientists, driven entrepreneurs, and all the dedicated people who volunteered to be part of the mission support team. Those will dedicate many hours, every week, to making sure we are safe, productive and happy. Then, I am very curious about future results from our research projects. Those we designed, and those in which we will have the humbling role of guinea pigs. The latter kind will offer opportunities to use very unusual technologies. And, finally, there are all the things we planned to learn during our free time. We might have to reduce the list if the mission is not extended by a decade or two, but our current ambitions include learning how to speak a new language (in my case, Russian), draw (trust me, work is needed before I can compete with a 5-year-old), play an instrument (harmonica, ukulele or guitar?) and dance salsa. So, yes, I am excited.
Next week will be the last week before closing the dome closes. Training will be intensive, as we have much to learn about habitat maintenance, geology field work, opportunistic research projects and others. But we will also enjoy pleasures we will not have access to in the dome: eating fresh food, hiking in nature, swimming in the sea...
What would you in your last week before a year-long isolation?